The Home Office guidance page Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents has been updated today (Wednesday 29 July 2020).
The update provides much-sought information about the position of people whose leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 inclusive. It doesn't appear to apply to those whose leave expires after 31 July 2020.
For those intending to leave the UK, the guidance now provides what it calls a ‘grace period’ for people whose leave expired, or expires, between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020. This grace period lasts to 31 August 2020, and is to allow people “to make the necessary arrangements to leave the UK”. It will come as a relief to people whose leave was extended to 31 July 2020, under the 'free extension', and who are not sure what their position will be immediately after that (on 1 August 2020). It is not clear how it works for people who didn’t register with the Home Office for the ‘free extension’ to 31 July 2020. However, the guidance does not appear to require that someone must have used the ‘free extension’ in order to qualify for the ‘grace period’.
The guidance says:
“During the grace period the conditions of your stay in the UK will be the same as the conditions of your leave. So, if your conditions allowed you to work, study or rent accommodation you may continue to do so during August 2020 ahead of your departure.
"You do not need to contact the Home Office to tell us you are able to leave the UK during the grace period up until the 31 August.”
It is not clear what will be recorded about people’s immigration position during this grace period, or where it will be recorded. It is not clear whether or how this could affect future immigration applications.
Additionally, it is not clear how people will be able to prove, without documentation, that they are in this grace period and therefore have the same conditions of stay in the UK. This could be particularly challenging for people who need to demonstrate this to employers, educational institutions or landlords.
The guidance does not appear to provide a grace period, of any length, for people whose leave expires after 31 July 2020. We understand this is a concern to many students whose leave is expiring soon after 31 July 2020 and who may still not yet be able to leave the UK, or make any plans to, because of coronavirus travel restrictions.
The Home Office’s Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for Tier 2, 4 and 5 sponsors webpage and Coronavirus (COVID-19): Tier 4 sponsors, migrants and short-term students guidance do not appear to have been updated in line with the above changes, or at all, yet.
Those whose leave expired/expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, who intend to leave the UK but who are unable to do so by the end of the ‘grace period’ (31 August 2020), must contact the Home Office coronavirus immigration team (CIT) to request additional time to remain in the UK, which will be known as “exceptional indemnity”.
The guidance says:
“If you intend to leave the UK but are not able to do so by 31 August 2020, you may request additional time to stay, also known as ‘exceptional indemnity’, by contacting the coronavirus immigration team (CIT).
“The indemnity does not grant you leave but will act as a short-term protection against any adverse action or consequences after your leave has expired.
“The Coronavirus Immigration Team will provide you with further advice on what you need to do to request an indemnity. This will include providing details of the reason why you are unable to leave the UK and supporting evidence, for example, a confirmed flight ticket with a date after 31 August or confirmation of a positive coronavirus test result.”
It is not clear if people will receive details of their ‘exceptional indemnity’ in writing. We are naturally concerned as to whether this could also affect future immigration applications.
Again, it is not clear but the guidance does not appear to require that someone must have used the ‘free extension’ in order to qualify for ‘exceptional indemnity’.
‘If you have overstayed your leave’
The guidance also says that “If your visa or leave expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 there will be no future adverse immigration consequences if you didn’t make an application to regularise your stay during this period. However, you must now do so from 1 August”.
It is not clear if this relates to people who did not contact the CIT during the period in question, in order to gain the ‘free extension’ to 31 July 2020. However, it appears to offer a retrospective amnesty to anyone whose leave expired between these dates. However, it is not clear if these people will receive any written notification that they will face no future “adverse immigration consequences”. Furthermore, it is not clear what the position is for these people on and after 1 August or how such people can regularise their stay from 1 August 2020.
Those intending to stay in the UK
The guidance makes continuing provision for those who are, instead, deciding to stay in the UK. It says:
“[…] you should apply for the necessary leave to remain in the UK. You will also be able to submit an application form from within the UK where you would usually need to apply for a visa from your home country.
“You will need to meet the requirements of the route you’re applying for and pay the UK application fee. This includes those whose leave has already been extended to 31 July 2020 and the grace period until 31 August 2020.
“The terms of your leave will remain the same until your application is decided. If you are switching into work or study routes you may be able to commence work or study whilst your application is under consideration.”
As above, the Coronavirus (COVID-19): Tier 4 sponsors, migrants and short-term students guidance remains to be updated. However, the updated guidance does still refer the reader to that other guidance, so we presume they are still meant to be read in conjunction (including regarding the provisions relating to English language testing and academic progression that are contained in that guidance).
Removal of the provision for ‘urgent’ applications
The new guidance also sees the removal of the ‘urgent application concession’; where people could apply for further leave if they "urgently need to make a new application, for example to start a new job or course of study, and cannot leave the UK to make an application from overseas" and which included, since 26 June 2020, people whose immigration permission expires after 31 July 2020. This will come as a shock to those who were preparing to make an application before or on 31 July 2020.